Plant-based protein not a fad, say analysts

Food that mimics the taste and texture of meat has exploded in popularity in grocery stores and fast-food chains

MONTREAL — The stunning growth in the plant-based protein market isn’t ending any time soon.

That was the message of two food industry experts who told the Pulse and Special Crops Convention that pulses are experiencing a food phenomenon that is reaching throughout the developed world.

“Why not plant-based?” said Samara Foisy, director of product development for Loblaws, about why her company is now making many plant-based protein products and carrying dozens more on the shelves of the grocery store chains her company operates.

“Plant-based is taking the world by storm.”

Farmers and other people connected to the food industry have seen fads come and go, crazes wax and suddenly wane, enthusiasms burn and then chill. Farmers have sometimes been disappointed when something they thought was a permanent development instead turned out to be just a fad.

However, both Foisy and Dalhousie University’s Sylvain Charlebois said the plant-based protein surge isn’t likely to be a short-term craze.

“This is not just a fad,” said Charlebois, who has watched the development closely and talked with non-meat burger developers.

“It’s incredible.”

Beyond Meat, which mimics the taste and texture of beef burgers, has exploded in popularity, with grocery stores and multiple fast-food chains embracing the vegetarian option and including it beside meat offerings.

Many other non-meat burger and sausage products are in or approaching the market and it’s hard to not see them becoming a lasting component.

Millennials and gen-Zers are more likely to be vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian than gen-Xers or baby boomers, but even among those latter groups, there is a strong move into flexitarianism.

Charlebois said a major achievement of the plant-based burgers has been making their product taste and seem like meat.

“Consumers will not compromise on taste and texture,” she said.

“Taste is king when it comes to buying food.”

Foisy said beyond the one-for-one non-meat substitutes for meat products, plant-based proteins are ending up as ingredients in many food products and that is likely to expand.

There has been incredible growth in the plant-based protein area, but Foisy said it faces unique challenges.

Labelling regulations don’t allow for easy understanding of the overall protein content of a product if it has multiple sources of plant protein.

Some of the non-meat products also contain numerous ingredients, and that conflicts with the desire of many to consume products with only simple ingredients, Charlebois said.

It would be good if researchers found ways to simplify non-meat products, he said.

With Canada’s Food Guide recommending against processed food, the highly processed nature of some non-meat products creates a potential conflict for those favouring plant-based options, but fearful of processed foods.

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